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Sunday, 08 January 2012 10:25

'The Seafarer' at West End is big theatre in a small space

Written by Dennis Corcoran
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The Details / John Lamb / John Lamb

The West End Players Guild tag line is “big theatre in a small space”. They are true to their word with this excellent production of The Seafarer - a powerful, darkly funny journey into the language-rich world of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s native Dublin.

The play is big – two hours of dense, often humorous, dialogue, all set in the small living room of a flat in the north Dublin coastal suburb of Baldoyle. There’s plenty to disgust you and plenty to crack you up in this play so typically Irish in language, tone and temperament. You might as well be back on the old sod yourself.

McPherson’s play – to my taste, his best – is like a fine jazz combo. And the evening flies by.

The story centers on two brothers, Richard and James “Sharkey” Harkin, a couple of mostly Richard’s friends, Ivan and Nicky, and a stranger, a guest, Mr. Lockheart, who has come to play a game of poker for the highest stakes of all.

Sharkey has returned from working in the West to help his brother, Richard, now blind and totally addicted to the drink. I won’t go into too much detail lest I give away any of the twists and turns. But, be sure – there are twists, turns, bouts of action, combat, banter, fair words and foul go leor.

The set by Mark Wilson is spot on – a true-to-life rendering of the script – and the acting, yes, this is all about acting - is superb. This play is a constant verbal stream in which accent, expression and timing are everything. And in West End’s small play space, there’s no way an actor can catch a breather, if you will, while the audience’s attention is diverted elsewhere.

To my knowledge, none of the actors are from Ireland– yet their accents, with the help of dialect consultant Jerry Moloney – Diarmuid Ó Maoldomhnaigh as Gaeilge – are wholly believable. And McPherson’s script is riddled with pub talk – think off-color phrases, some recognizable to an American audience, some not.

Robert Ashton as Richard, Matt Hanify as Sharkey and Charles Heuvelman as Ivan are the core of the jazz combo. They draw you in from the first “lights up” and set a rhythm and tone which never let you go and never let you down.

Joined later by John Reidy as Nicky and Barry Hyatt as Mr. Lockheart, the combo is complete. The music of the language, its pace, ebb and flow, are all captivating. And just as with a fine jazz group, each takes his turn on a solo or two which in every case adds a layer of richness and interest to the story and to the evening at hand.

Much credit for this fine show goes to director Steve Callahan. I’d point out ways his hand shaped this production – but I can’t. And that is my point.

Consider: A group of American actors assembled to take on one of the best plays of one of Ireland’s finest contemporary playwrights – and you don’t know you’re not there, in Baldoyle yourself, among a bunch of “Dubs”, slogging through all the good craic and muck of it all … that’s fine directing!

Tá an dráma seo go han-deas. Go han-deas ar fad!

The Seafarer continues at the Union Avenue Christain Church through Sunday, January 15th. For more information, visit on the web.

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